Rebuttal to Chinese Authorities’ Claims About Death of Cao Shunli – March 20, 2014

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Rebuttal to China’s Claims at Human Rights Council on Death of Cao Shunli

 March 20, 2014

CHRD wishes to respond to the Chinese government delegation’s declaration to the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva during a general debate on March 18 that Cao Shunli (曹顺利) had been sick for a long time, she was sent to hospital for diagnosis, and that her illness became worse before she ultimately died in a hospital.

There are three key facts that the government chose to omit:

First, authorities did not send Cao to an emergency room until her illnesses had gone untreated for so long that her life was already in grave danger, and only after authorities had repeatedly rejected lawyer’s requests for medical bail during the previous five months;

Second, Cao was in good health when she went to the airport in Beijing to board her flight to Geneva on September 14, 2013, the day she was initially detained. So any treatment that the government claimed she had received at the detention facility must have been of extremely poor quality and woefully inadequate, if she received any treatment at all, since Cao was practically in a coma when she was brought to an emergency room on February 19, 2014;

Third, since government authorities barred Cao’s lawyer and supporters from entering her hospital room, her family members are under pressure from authorities, and the only friend who managed to visit her has been disappeared (see below), it is currently very difficult to verify whether Cao received all necessary medical treatment at the hospital, or whether she could have possibly made a full recovery, given the state of her illnesses when she was bought to the hospital.

CHRD reiterates its call for an independent investigation into the death of Cao Shunli, and for the authorities found responsible to be held criminally accountable.

Body Showed Signs of Neglect & Mistreatment in Detention

After Cao Shunli’s death, authorities barred family members from more than a very brief moment to view her body. That was when they noticed signs of emaciation as well as bedsores and bruises on the body. According to CHRD sources, doctors at No. 309 Military Hospital spoke anonymously to family members about their disbelief in, and complaint of, Cao’s conditions at the time she was brought to the hospital. Doctors said that Cao’s conditions indicated she had not received any care or treatment for a long period of time and she must have been simply left to die in the detention cell—nobody even turned her over or washed her—as seen by her state of emaciation and the bedsores. It is also unclear where authorities have moved Cao’s body since her death.[1]

CHRD has rebutted declarations about the death of Cao Shunli (曹顺利) made by a Chinese delegation before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 18.

CHRD has rebutted declarations about the death of Cao Shunli (曹顺利) made by a Chinese delegation before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 18.


Supporter of Cao Shunli Disappeared, Feared Detained by Police

Beijing activist Liu Xiaofang (刘晓芳), a close associate of Cao, disappeared on March 11 and is believed to have been detained by police. Liu previously spoke to reporters about Cao’s condition while Cao was hospitalized and before the activist died on March 14 (see report). One source told CHRD that up to 10 activists have been criminally detained for trying to visit Cao Shunli while she was at No. 309 Military Hospital. Activist Shan Yajuan (单亚娟) was taken into custody on March 14 when she was trying to reach the hospital and held in a Haidian District police station before being released. Li Yingzhi (李英之) was criminally detained on March 4 on charges of “unlawful assembly” (see report), while Wang Ling (王玲) and Chen Shufeng (陈淑风) were criminally detained on February 21 on charges of “disrupting order of a public place” (see report).[2]

Formal Rebuttals to China’s Responses to UN Experts on Case of Cao Shunli

Following CHRD’s communiqués to UN Special Procedures after Cao was initially taken into custody in September 2013, the UN experts sent inquiries to the Chinese government. The government in turn provided three written responses to the UN on her case. Below are CHRD’s detailed rebuttals to claims made in the government’s responses.

1) Rebuttal to the government’s claim (from its response dated September 23, 2013 to an inquiry from UN Experts about Cao’s disappearance at the airport in Beijing) that, “During the process of handling the case, the authorities have strictly followed legal procedures, notified the suspects and their families of their rights and obligations, met their reasonable requirements of meeting with lawyers and family members, and accessing to medical treatment. In addition, there was no illegal detention, physical attacks, abuses and corporal punishment during the whole process:”

Ms. Cao was initially taken into custody on September 14, 2013, at Beijing Capital International Airport while on her way to a UN human rights training in Geneva. This is in violation of her right to participate in international human rights activities. Also, in violation of Chinese law, her family was not provided a detention notice. Cao was then illegally held incommunicado for weeks and formally arrested on trump-up charges of “creating a disturbance” on October 21, but she refused to sign the arrest warrant issued to her. Her lawyer attempted to visit her several times at the detention facility before she was finally allowed an hour-long visit with Cao on October 3, the delay that clearly violated her right to legal counsel. Although Ms. Cao’s health seriously deteriorated during her detention, Cao told her lawyer several times that she was not provided adequate medical treatment, and authorities repeatedly denied her family and lawyer’s requests to release her on bail on medical grounds.

2) Rebuttal to the government’s claim (from its response dated January 7, 2014 to UN experts) that “In the preparation work of national human rights review, the Chinese government attaches great importance to the participation of NGOs. Consultations have been carried out with more than 20 representative institutions such as the All China Trade Union, All China Women’s Federation, the Chinese Society for Human Rights’ Studies, the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Science. The ‘National Human Rights Report’ has been publicized on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website for public perusal. Whatever has been done in this regard by the Chinese government is in strict accordance with the spirit of the resolutions approved by the Human Rights Council”:

The four specifically named “representative institutions” in the response are Chinese government bodies. The government appoints their leaders and their staff are on government payroll. Not only do these institutions lack independence from the government, but authorities also did not publicly disclose the details of their “consultations” tied to its preparations for UPR.

Participation by civil society is a central element of the Human Rights Council (HRC)’s review of Member States’ human rights records. However, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 2012 declared in reply to Ms. Cao and fellow members of civil society that information about UPR preparations is a “state secret,” a decision upheld by a Beijing court in August 2013. The government’s designation of information about UPR as a “state secret,” as well as its blocking of civil society activists from participating in UPR, clearly violates the principles guiding the work of the HRC.

3) Rebuttal to the Chinese government’s claim (from its response dated January 7, 2014) that “In accordance with Article 12.1 of the Administrative Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, people’s courts cannot accept requests for lawsuits on subjects of state actions such as defence and state diplomacy brought about by citizens, legal persons or other organizations. The UPR work carried out by the Foreign Ministry, on behalf of the Chinese government, to submit to the United Nations the national report on human rights is a state diplomatic action. The lawsuits brought about by Cao and others accusing the Chinese government’s lack of transparency in the UPR process are found unacceptable according to people’s court. On the 23rd of August, 2013, the 2nd Beijing Intermediate People’s Court came to the decision that the lawsuits filed by Cao and others against the Foreign Ministry are not acceptable”:

The requests and lawsuits filed by Cao Shunli and other citizens do not involve “subjects of state actions such as defence and state diplomacy.” National preparations for Universal Periodic Review must be open to civil society participation, and the process is simply not a matter of diplomacy. The Chinese government made a categorical mistake by defining UPR preparation as a matter of “diplomacy” in violation of Human Rights Council resolutions and UPR guidelines. And the government then used its own incorrect categorization of UPR as a mere act of diplomacy to dismiss Cao Shunli and her colleagues’ request for information disclosure. Cao Shunli and colleagues merely have demanded that the Chinese government meet basic requirements by the Human Rights Council for state parties undergoing UPR and fulfill the government’s own “voluntary pledge” to the HRC. The requests and lawsuits sought government disclosure of information about which “civil society” “representative institutions” had participated in preparations for UPR, and whether these institutions are genuinely independent members of civil society.

In May 2008, China promulgated the “Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on the Disclosure of Government Information,” Article 9 of which states: “Administrative agencies should disclose on their own initiative government information that satisfies any one of the following basic criteria: 1) Information that involves the vital interests of citizens, legal persons or other organizations; 2) Information that needs to be extensively known or participated in by the general public.” Ms. Cao’s requests concerned information that the Chinese government should make openly available to its citizens. Hence, the Chinese court’s rejection of Cao and her colleagues’ administrative lawsuit demanding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclose information backing up its claim of “civil society participation” of UPR and its claim that such information involved “state secrets,” as well as the government’s above-quoted response to the Special Procedures, violate both international human rights principles, upon which the HRC’s UPR is based, and China’s own laws and regulations.

4) Rebuttal to the government’s claim (from its response dated January 24, 2014) that “After Cao’s detention on the criminal charge and subsequent to her arrest, her family was duly informed in accordance with the regulations in force. During her detention period, Cao had access to medical care as provided by the detention centre. According to the medical assessment doctors made, no serious liver disease was diagnosed”:

Following Ms. Cao’s initial detention and in violation of Chinese law, her family in fact was not provided with a criminal detention notice while she was being held incommunicado for several weeks after she was taken away in September 2013.

Contrary to the government’s claim, Ms. Cao was not provided medical treatment in detention, where she developed a number of illnesses, including tuberculosis and liver ascites, and also suffered from fibroid tumors and cysts. The illnesses that went untreated and ultimately proved fatal could have been prevented or treated through adequate access to medical care. On February 19, 2014, she was taken to the intensive care unit of Beijing’s Qinghe Emergency Center. Cao fell into a coma due to organ failure. On February 20, due to her life-threatening condition, authorities transferred Cao to 309 Military Hospital in Beijing, where she eventually died on March 14, 2014.

CHRD reiterates its position that, based on the overwhelming evidence it has documented, the Chinese government is responsible for disappearing, arbitrarily detaining, and torturing or inhumanely treating Cao Shunli by denying her medical treatment in detention, which directly led to her death.

CHRD demands the Chinese government provide state compensation to Cao Shunli’s family for her illegal detention, for the abuses and inhumane treatment that she was subjected to in detention; and the government must allow independent investigation and seek criminal accountability for Cao’s death.

CHRD strongly urges the Human Rights Council, its President, and other Member States to condemn the Chinese government for its arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment of Cao Shunli, which led to her death. They must support an independent investigation into Cao Shunli’s death. The Chinese government must be held accountable for Cao’s death as part of the government’s ongoing and unchecked reprisals against human rights defenders in China.


Renee Xia, International Director, +1 240 374 8937+1 240 374

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator, +852 8192 7875,

[1] “Family of Cao Shunli Say Her Body Has Gone Missing” (家属称曹顺利遗体不知去向), March 14, 2014, CRLW.

[2] “Activist Shan Yajuan Taken Away for Going to 309 Hospital to Visit Cao Shunli” (前往309医院探望已故人权捍卫者曹顺利的单亚娟被带走), March 14, 2014, WQW; “Cao Shunli Status Critical Again, Several Supporters Taken into Custody” (曹顺利病情再度危殆,多位关注者被拘押), March 14, 2014, WQW; “Beijing Activist Li Yingzhi Criminally Detained for Trying to Visit Cao Shunli” (北京维权人士李英之因探望曹顺利被刑拘), March 4, 2014, WQW; “30 Supporters Held for Trying to Visit Critically Ill Cao Shunli, Several Criminally Detained” (因探望病危的曹顺利30余人遭扣押,数人被刑拘), February 23, 2014, WQW.

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